Thank you very much, and thank you for the opportunity to address this committee. We're very grateful to be participating in your study on advancing inclusion and quality of life for Canadian seniors. Of course, what should result from all of this is the establishment and creation of a national seniors strategy.
In seven minutes, of course, we can't go into detail on a whole lot of things, so I'm going to be general in our presentation. If you have specific questions, I'd be pleased to answer, with the assistance of Sayward.
As some of you may know, I was also the first chair of the National Seniors Council, a position I held from 2007 to 2013. From a personal point of view, that was the most interesting part of my life. It was a time when I had the opportunity to meet with seniors organizations and many stakeholders to discuss many issues related to an aging society.
I'd like to recognize the Hon. Alice Wong, who was my last boss when she was the minister responsible for seniors. It was a pleasure working with her. I shared a lot of issues with her, and she was very supportive when I was chair of the National Seniors Council. The problem is that many of the issues the council raised some 10 years ago are still unresolved, and we are still discussing them today.
My organization represents 180,000 federal retirees, including 60,000 Canadian Forces veterans. I cannot think of a more important issue that concerns Canadian retirees and their loved ones than creating a national seniors strategy that would coordinate programs with policies. I am sure that Canadians over 65, who make up 16.9% of the country's population, will agree with me.
In 2015, the news that there were more seniors than children in Canada made headlines. What surprised me was that so many Canadians were surprised by the findings. I can understand why the baby boomers took society and a great many parents by surprise back in the 1940s, but in truth, we all knew that this great generation would one day grow old.
Canadians and all three levels of government have a lot of catching up to do. Lest we think of a national seniors strategy as a short-term need, we should be mindful that average Canadian life expectancy has increased by 30 years over the past 100 years, thanks to the medical advances that continue today.
For this reason, we were glad to see the three major themes of the committee's study: access to affordable accessible housing, income security for vulnerable seniors, and community programs that promote social inclusion and recognize the importance of social determinants of health. Indeed, these were all issues that were being discussed by the seniors council some 10 years ago.
All of these things are related. Any physician will tell you that a miserable life will make you sick. Unhealthy people cost the health care system a lot. They cannot contribute to society or the economy if they are sick.
Public policy must ensure that retirement savings measures created for and available to Canadians are effective, efficient, and realistic. Earned retirement pensions must be protected, and government programs must meet the needs of the most vulnerable seniors. This is why we are very concerned about Bill C-27, as the CUPE representative said, which would introduce a target benefit plan or shared risk plan that would shift the risk from employers and plan sponsors to employees and retirees. In tough times, target benefit pensions can be reduced, providing less retirement security for their members, something that works contrary to the goals of the national seniors strategy.
In order to respond to the housing needs of seniors, a national seniors strategy needs to include home care, palliative care, and end-of-life care, as well as investments in infrastructure.
However, to achieve this, the provincial and federal governments need to be on the same page. Is this possible?
A new political approach will mean investing in infrastructure to improve access to housing; with affordable, accessible housing and measures designed to help seniors remain in their homes, infrastructure funding would be linked to the establishment of age-friendly communities.
We need to innovate by developing effective home care strategies, like the veterans independence program. Home care is not limited to just health care, but also includes access to non-medical support services, like housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation to appointments and social activities, as well as snow removal.
We believe a national strategy is an opportunity to ensure that Canadians continue to be healthy and productive well into retirement, contributing to the local and national economies.
Finally, the appointment of a minister responsible for seniors is a most important must to our organization, as I'm sure it is for all Canadians. The former government had a minister responsible for seniors, as I mentioned. We have a minister responsible for youth—we all know who that is—and we have a minister responsible for families, but we do not have a specific minister responsible for one of the most important parts of our society. We need this.
Let me conclude with a thought I expressed in our magazine Sage when we produced our last issue. I said that to have older Canadians is a challenge but also an opportunity. It is an opportunity to do something now that will benefit all Canadians, because all of you who are younger Canadians expect to grow old, and whatever is done for seniors today will benefit you in the future.
Let me conclude with some wise words from another person, Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and author of the Ontario government's seniors strategy. He says that aging is not a disease, but rather a triumph. I would add that we should get ready for a new definition of retirement. Let's get it right, and you have the opportunity of doing that.